New Plans for Old Stuff

At 5:30 on a Sunday morning, two weeks before the May 30 launch of their West Loop antique market, Sally Schwartz and Kathleen Finley hit the road, trekking to Sandwich, Illinois, and Elkhorn, Wisconsin, on a hunt for more dealers. Publicity for the Chicago Antique Market–which will run the last Sunday of each month through October on the 1300 block of West Randolph–boasted of “almost 200 stalls,” but though they’d already leased all indoor spaces for the season, Schwartz and Finley’s total so far was just 120 dealers. At this point, Schwartz said, they were hoping for 170 for the opening.

The last time Schwartz tried something like this, in the mid-90s, she was literally blown away. A Saturday-night storm swept through a weekend show she’d pitched on an empty lot at North Water Street and McClurg Court. The storm “did a massive amount of damage,” but what killed the twice-yearly event was loss of both the site (to developers) and her business-partner husband (to divorce). When Schwartz tried to move the market, there was a distinct lack of interest on the part of the city: “People were leaving in droves to drive to places like Kane County, but this was pre-Antiques Roadshow,” she says. “It just didn’t occur to [city officials] that this is a viable way for the city to gain exposure.”

For the next few years Schwartz focused on her special-event and party-planning business and put the antique market on the back burner, though the idea was “like an obsession.” Two years ago she was approached to take over Taste of Randolph Street. “I went in and realized I did not want to do it,” she recalls. “But I pitched the idea of doing an antique market, and they jumped.” In March 2003 she hooked up with Finley, who’d been an event producer for Jam Productions.

Even with a “good friend” in the Mayor’s Office of Special Events, Schwartz says, “you have to kiss ass to make this thing happen–the red tape is unbelievable….Every dealer has to have an itinerant license. You have to have liability insurance for everybody, and everyone doing food has to go to a city-run class. There’s like 40 pages of permits to be filled out every month.” But this time around, the city bought into the idea. When a Randolph Street site they’d scouted fell through, Finley says, they were offered spots at Millennium Park or Daley Plaza, but the “vibe just wasn’t right.” They wound up with space for 60 indoor stalls at Hoops the Gym Stadium Club and permission to block off Randolph between Ada and Ogden for the rest. They’re able to keep prices low for the dealers in this “SoHo-like environment,” Schwartz says, because unlike some venues, there’s relatively little in the way of required union labor. Dealers who sign up for the season will pay less than $200 per market; a onetime spot is $235.

Schwartz says it will cost $70,000 to get the first market up and that there’ll be overhead of about $40,000 a month after that. But “it’s a nice business model, because we take in money from the dealers, from the public [admission is $8], and from sponsors” including Starbucks, US Cellular, and Coca-Cola. Besides that, “the businesses on Randolph and the dealers”–who’ll sell everything from vintage Playboy magazines to 17th-century oil paintings–“are helping us market it.” There will be a food tent operated by One Sixty Blue and La Luce, free parking for 250 cars, hourly trolley service from the Water Tower, and free antique appraisals by guest experts (one per patron). If things go well, the indoor part of the show may continue year-round.

Notes From the Pier

“In a class of its own” is what Sally Schwartz says of Antiques Chicago, the high-end show auctioneer Leslie Hindman and her partner, medieval art expert Sandra Hindman (no relation), have run for two years at Navy Pier during the weekend of Art Chicago. Word has it that attendance this year was light, but Leslie Hindman says most of their 63 dealers did well. She and her partner, though, will be lucky to break even: “The unions charge so much money it’s a drag.” Still, she says, Antiques Chicago will be back and larger next year.

Neither pier officials nor Thomas Blackman Associates, which produces Art Chicago, would release hard attendance figures at press time for this year’s slimmer-but-still-not-hotter version of the annual art fair. TBA owed the Pier Authority a reported half a million dollars before this year’s installment, and a spokesperson for the pier confirmed that they’re “in discussions” with Blackman about the future. Blackman owns Art Chicago, but the Pier Authority could conceivably lock him out and attempt to run its own show.

Meanwhile, Joseph Tabet is reconsidering his announced retirement after three years as president and chief bottle washer of Pier Walk, the monumental outdoor sculpture exhibit that goes up just before Art Chicago and stays for the summer. Tabet, a stockbroker, says this year’s curator, New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl, expressed interest in taking a second crack at the event. He’s tempted to stay around for that–but “only if there’s money to hire someone to help.” Without Tabet, there may not be a Pier Walk: it seems no one’s stepping up to take it on.


Longtime Poetry magazine editor Joseph Parisi was nowhere in sight when the Poetry Foundation gave out its annual $100,000 Ruth Lilly prize at the Arts Club last week, but he wasn’t forgotten by its recipient. The magazine launched her career by publishing two of her poems two decades ago, Kay Ryan noted: “That happened under the watch of Joseph Parisi, who ran Poetry on a shoestring so many years.”…Correction: Talking Books With Mara Tapp, broadcast on WFMT last Sunday, was a onetime pilot, not yet the start of a regular program. Tapp is looking for money to produce and syndicate the show.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kathy Richland.